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smow Blog Interview: Glen Oliver Löw – I have always been of the opinion that design begins with a problem.

Born in Leverkusen Glen Oliver Löw initially studied Industrial Design at the University of Wuppertal before moving to Milan in 1986 where he completed a Masters degree at the Domus Academy. Following his graduation from the Domus Academy Glen Oliver Löw remained in Milan where he took up a position with Antonio Citterio, becoming a partner in the practice in 1990, and developing a wide range of projects for companies as varied as, amongst others, Vitra, Kartell and Flos.

In 2000 Glen Oliver Löw returned to Germany where he took up a professorial position at the Hochschule für bildende Künste, HFBK, in Hamburg and established a design studio in the city from where he has realised projects with clients such as Thonet, Steelcase and Knoll.

We met up with Glen Oliver Löw to discuss contemporary product design, 1980s Milan and the HFBK Hamburg, but began, as ever, by asking why design?

Glen Oliver Löw: As a child I had a strong affinity with design, was always building and creating, and so when it came time to decide on a direction industrial design was an obvious choice. What I especially enjoy is working as part of a team to develop meaningful, functioning products.

smow Blog: And why Wuppertal?

Glen Oliver Löw: It was a Hochschule which had a very good reputation, particularly in terms of practical skills, which at that time was what design was, creating objects for industrial production and at Wuppertal one received a very good basis in areas such as materials or production processes.

smow Blog: After Wuppertal you switched to the Domus Academy in Milan, which sound likes a dictionary definition of “culture shock”, why the decision for Milan?

Glen Oliver Löw: For me it was necessary, and important, after a fairly dry, technical, German education to see and to understand design in a cultural context, and I was lucky enough to get an Europa-Stipendium which enabled me to attend Domus. That was 1986 which was a very exciting, motivating time, Memphis, for example, were very present with their functionalism criticism and their anti position in terms classic product design. I was clearly on the side of the functionalists, and despite the influences I remained a functionalist, always form follows function, but it was a wonderful, exciting, environment to be in.

smow Blog: Interesting you say that because you were a student in Wuppertal as the neue Deutsche Design Welle was breaking across West Germany, did that leave you cold, did what was happening not interest you, or…..?

Glen Oliver Löw: I couldn’t stand all that, I found it gruesome – it never appealed to me. The Memphis aesthetic was however something which I found more interesting

smow Blog: You said that Milan in the mid 1980s was an exciting environment to be in, how is it when you visit Milan today, do you still feel a sense of energy, or has city and its design community changed, evolved with the years?

Glen Oliver Löw: Personally I don’t find it so exciting, that could however be to do with me! However in general I don’t find the contemporary industrial design discourse especially interesting. Back then completely new things were being created, new ideas advanced, there was genuine innovation, these days its more show, to make things different but not necessarily better. And specifically in terms of Milan in the 1980s it was an El Dorado for designers, there were a relatively large number of small and medium sized furniture producers and they all needed something innovative and creative in order to be competitive, and so there was a lot of possibilities for designers. Today I see a lot less innovation and creativity, and for all fewer companies prepared to take a risk and let a designer try something experimental, all prefer to play safe, to focus on that which has already proved itself, or more commonly what competitors have in their programme, rather than risking an investment in something new, and the consequence is that it is always the same designers who are commissioned to produce the same ideas over and over again.

smow Blog: Can you explain why that should be, is it because of a changed understanding of design, has the design market altered….?

Glen Oliver Löw: I have always been of the opinion that design begins with a problem. Today however a lot of design is self-involved – design for design’s sake. In many respects design has become similar to fashion, with the repetition of shortsighted trends. And on the other hand the affinity to objects is not there as it once was, the interest in an object. Everything today happens in media, and how things look is of secondary importance, the object as a physical entity is not so important today, functionality is much more understood in terms of usability. Man-Machine interaction.

smow Blog: And can we therefore assume that you also have the feeling the term design is becoming more vague, less defined?

Glen Oliver Löw: Absolutely, total ambiguous. Today everything is packaged under the term design, if, for example, someone works in a social context then one designs society or social processes. Today everything is design.

smow Blog: Having gone to Milan to study for a year, you remained for neigh on 15 years, principally cooperating with Antonio Citterio, how did that partnership arise?

Glen Oliver Löw: At that time he was looking for a German speaking designer to be responsible for the contact with Vitra. He asked at Domus, they suggested me and as Antonio Citterio was one of the few designers in Milan in those days who’d remained true to functionalism and hadn’t been seduced by Memphis, everything fitted perfectly. For me personally it meant that I started travelling to Basel, to Vitra, once a week and that was then when I truly began to understand how a design process functions and what it means to design in an industrial context.

smow Blog: And how was the design process with Antonio Citterio, was it the case that you developed a project and he said good or not good or was it a more joint approach?

Glen Oliver Löw: From the very beginning we worked very closely together, and then after I became a partner I was much more independent in what I did, but always in close cooperation with Citterio. I think we always had similar approaches and a similar understanding, I would say that I was probably always more interested in innovation and invention, so doing something new or different, whereas Citterio has a very good hand to take things that are already there and to reconfigure in a new and meaningful fashion.

smow Blog: In 2000 you left Milan, was that just a case of new millennium, new perspectives, or….

Glen Oliver Löw: After 13 years cooperation with Citterio the time was right to establish my own office, and the position here at the Hochschule offered the perfect opportunity. There were also personal, family, considerations, but at that time everything just seemed to indicate that a return to Germany was the correct decision, and so I took up the position here and established my own studio.

smow Blog: When we look at the HFBK the Design Department is, let’s say, very experimental, and then there is Professor Glen Oliver Löw as the representative of a more traditional form of design…

Glen Oliver Löw: I’m the dinosaur here, a remnant as it were of Industrial design. In the fifteen years that I’ve been here the design department has changed a lot. When I first came it was much more focussed on the forming of objects, so classic product design, it was understood that design was products, these days I have to fight my position a little harder. The new direction is much more social design, and objects are much more a peripheral aspect.

smow Blog: And what does that mean for the practicalities of the education here, can one for example still design a chair here as graduation project?

Glen Oliver Löw: The HFBK is an art school and all students study for a Bachelor in Fine Arts, within the course there is a focus Design and in terms of the practicalities it isn’t the case that the teaching staff stand at the front of the class and explain how things are, rather each student should find their own way. The aim is that every student develops their own theme, their own attitude and finds a subject in which they work and develop over the three years, and that could yes be product related, for example a chair. One of the great advantages of the HFBK is the fantastic workshops and workshop staff, facilities which mean that all our students have the opportunity develop a design into a functional object; but that is an opportunity that is not taken up as often as it once was, or at least not so often at a high level. When I first arrived here students were building, for example, functional solar aircraft in the workshops, today there is much more dilettantism: Gaffer tape is considered sexy and is regularly used in place of a refined technical detail.

smow Blog: Which we take to mean that not only has the design department changed over the years, but also the design student……?

Glen Oliver Löw: Their interests are certainly different, and they are also much younger, these days they often come straight from school, which is often too early. One regularly has the feeling a student doesn’t really know themselves what they want here, other than this all encompassing “design”, that they need a bit more experience, that they should first of all complete an apprenticeship to get a better understanding of things, because a four year course isn’t that much time to discover what you want.

smow Blog: When we speak to recent graduates they often articulate a wish that there had been more business elements in die education, how is the situation here, are such things taught?

Glen Oliver Löw: No, no, and that deliberately so! We are art school and as designers we are not interested in aligning design with economic aspects! Here, for example, Open Design is a big theme, everyone places their designs online and others can change them, adapt them, and that is obviously a completely different mentality to my generation where we all thought we’d invented something, sought to protect it and to earn money through licence fees.
Occasionally students do come to ask questions and I happily give tips and advice from my own experience on, for example, what is important with a contract or where one should take care when speaking with a client, and in such ways business elements do become part of the student’s education here. In principle I recommend all students undertake an internship or work in a design office in order to learn those elements of the profession which aren’t covered in the college in a professional context.
smow Blog: But were you taught such things at Wuppertal?

Glen Oliver Löw: No, we weren’t taught such things either, if I remember I think we had a course in copyright, but otherwise it was all learning by doing.

smow Blog: And does the situation arise that students come and say, I’ve got a chair design, would like to find a producer….. can you help me?

Glen Oliver Löw: That does occur, yes, and several projects developed here at the college are now in serial production. However often students over-estimate the potential of an academic, student, project. The primary aim of the education is not specific object but rather the gestaltende Individuum, the personal development.
I am in any case firmly of the opinion that one should always develop a project together with a producer. Personally I have never designed something and then looked to place it with a manufacturer, that rarely functions. However as a student or young designer you often have little other choice to try to draw attention to yourself and to attract the attention of a manufacturer.

smow Blog: In addition to your teaching work here you are also still developing furniture projects, is that something you still enjoy?

Glen Oliver Löw: Very much so, it is something which gives a great deal of satisfaction and which shows that classic product design is not dead, and that there is still an interest in a good functional product which functions globally and across cultural borders, and that despite everything functional design is still in demand.

smow Blog: Changing tact slightly, you’ve been in Hamburg for 15 years now, is Hamburg a creative city? Are there options for students here after graduation?

Glen Oliver Löw: Creative yes, but not one with much in terms of production or companies who can realise designs. As a city Hamburg is much more geared towards, for example, media or trading. However in our contemporary global economy designers don’t necessarily need to be based near to manufacturers.

smow Blog: And to end, is there one piece of advice you would give your students?

Glen Oliver Löw: To be successful as a designer requires a great passion for objects, the design process and an unconditional creative will. Design students who have to force themselves to create something, I would advise to consider a different path.

Think by Glen Oliver Löw for Steelcase

Think by Glen Oliver Löw for Steelcase

S 60 by Glen Oliver Löw for Thonet

S 60 by Glen Oliver Löw for Thonet

S 1070 by Glen Oliver Löw for Thonet

S 1070 by Glen Oliver Löw for Thonet

Battista by Glen Oliver Löw & Antonio Citterio for Kartell

Battista by Glen Oliver Löw & Antonio Citterio for Kartell

Vis-a-vis by Glen Oliver Löw & Antonio Citterio for Vitra

Vis-a-vis by Glen Oliver Löw & Antonio Citterio for Vitra

(smow) blog Design Calendar: August 6th 1920 – Happy Birthday Anna Castelli Ferrieri!

“Plastic was equivalent with America for us. Only Bakelite came from Europe. Right? But after the war, everything plastic came to Italy from the States. Purely commercial stuff, but every year a new material came on the market”, recalled Italian architect and designer Anna Castelli Ferrieri in a 1997 interview, “We wanted to try out what all can be made with these new materials”1

And try she did. With an élan that resulted in an enviable portfolio of products that have not only become established design classics in their own right but which helped establish Italian manufacturer Kartell’s reputation at the forefront of plastic research and design.

Born in Milan on August 6th 1920 Anna Ferrieri studied architecture at the Politecnico di Milano before establishing her own architecture practice in 1946. In the early 1960s, in context of a hotel renovation project undertaken with Ignazio Gardella, Anna Castelli Ferrieri found herself, more or less, forced to design a table – unable as she was to find anything on the market which matched her specifications. As fate would have it, her husband Giulio Castelli had in 1949 established a small plastics company called Kartell. Following an initial specialisation on industrial and scientific objects and components, Kartell moved throughout the 1950s ever more towards domestic, household objects before in 1964 releasing their first piece of furniture – Richard Sapper and Marco Zanuso’s K1340 stackable children’s chair. Against her better judgement Anna Castelli Ferrieri decided to mix private and professional and co-operated with Kartell on the hotel furniture project, the result was Ignazio Gardella and Anna Castelli Ferrieri’s much celebrated large oval dinning table: and the start of a long, if unintended, professional relationship between Anna Castelli Ferrieri and Giulio Castelli. In 1966 Anna Castelli Ferrieri planned and built a new production and administrative complex for Kartell in the southern suburbs of Milan before moving on to develop numerous successful furniture design projects for the company, the best known and most important being without question being the Componibili modular storage system from 1969.

For Anna Castelli Ferrieri the advantages of the new synthetic materials were clear, “With plastics new production process became available. With the old processes one often required several components made of different materials. That meant waste. With plastic everything could be made in one process, from one material, in one piece. And the results weren’t just cheaper, but also more attractive.”2 This passion for plastic never waned and throughout her career she remained an uncritical fan of plastics, even suggesting, somewhat controversially, that “plastic is the only ecological material that exists today. You should leave the wood in the forests. We should not work with anything that can come to an end, can run out.”3 That said, Anna Castelli Ferrieri was also very aware of a designer’s responsibility, stating in 1997 that, “I continue on my own way, conscious of the responsibility I take upon myself whenever I add a new presence to an already overcrowded physical world.”4 For Anna Castelli Ferrieri that included developing new processes for recycling plastic waste and indeed new forms of more durable, less resource intensive plastics. Research that remains a central focus of Kartell’s commercial activity.

Anna Castelli Ferrieri’s design career was however much more than just Kartell and plastics. In addition to co-founding the Italian Industrial Design Association and teaching at both Milan University and the Domus Academy, Anna Castelli Ferrieri co-operated with companies as varied as Arflex, Matteo Grassi or Barovier & Toso and spent five years as the Italian correspondent of the London based publication Architectural Design.

Anna Castelli Ferrieri died in Milan on June 22nd 2006 aged 87.

But for today, Happy Birthday Anna Castelli Ferrieri!

1.  Hufnagl, Florian (ed.) Plastics + design die Neue Sammlung, Staatliches Museum für Angewandte Kunst, München , Arnoldsche Verlag, Stuttgart 1997

2. Quoted in, Jürgs, Britta “Vom Salzstreuer bis zum Automobil: Designerinnen”, AvivA Verlag, Berlin, 2002

3.  Hufnagl, Florian (ed.) Plastics + design die Neue Sammlung, Staatliches Museum für Angewandte Kunst, München , Arnoldsche Verlag, Stuttgart 1997

4. Quoted in “Anna Castelli Ferrieri, 87, Force in Postwar Modern Italian Design, Dies” New York Times, June 28, 2006{%222%22%3A%22RI%3A14%22} accessed 05.08.2014

August 6th 1920 Happy Birthday Anna Castelli Ferrieri

Happy Birthday Anna Castelli Ferrieri!

(smow) blog compact: Kartell celebrate a decade of Bourgie by Ferruccio Laviani

It’s probably indicative of the transiency of the contemporary furniture business, but during the recent Maison & Objet in Paris, Milanese manufacturer Kartell celebrated 10 years of the lamp Bourgie by Ferruccio Laviani.

Time was when 10 years was but the blink of an eye for a lighting design object; these days, objects that survive a decade are the grand old men of the company’s portfolio.

To celebrate ten years of Bourgie Kartell asked 14 designers to re-imagine Ferruccio Laviani’s faux-baroque lamp. Or 13 designers and Lenny Kravitz.

Philippe Starck chose to garnish/mock the base with kitsch plastic jewellery, Eugeni Quitllet turned the one light bulb into ten birthday cake candles, Alberto Meda removed the baroque excesses to produce a delightfully reduced metal version, Patricia Urquiola completely revised Bourgie and created a hanging chandelier, and perhaps most impressively Mario Bellini created the most fantastic lamp-cum-coat stand-cum-umbrella holder.

In the coming months the anniversary lamps will go on a small global tour before being auctioned at the end of 2014. The proceeds from the sale going to charity.

A few impressions:

(smow) blog Design Calendar: 18th January 1949 – Happy Birthday Philippe Starck!

A few years ago the (smow) blog telephone rang…..

“Good morning is it possible to speak to Philippe Starck please?” enquired the caller.

“I’m sorry he’s not here at the moment” we replied, truthfully, if not altogether helpfully.

“When will it be possible?” came the inevitable follow-up.

“We’re not really sure, he’s not here in Leipzig that often”, we responded, truthfully if, again, not altogether helpfully, “you’re probably better phoning the Paris office they tend to be better informed”

It wasn’t our proudest moment. But one of the more satisfying.

A few months later we failed to secure an interview with Philippe Starck at Milan Design Week.

We can’t prove the two are related, but, you know, karma.

philippe starck portrait  Jean-Baptiste Mondino

Philippe Starck (Photo: Jean-Baptiste Mondino)

Born on January 18th 1949 in the Parisian suburb Neuilly-sur-Seine to an inventor/aircraft engineer father and a housewife mother, Philippe Starck grew up in first Neuilly and laterally Garches Marne-la-Coquette and more or less attended the private École Camondo design school. Following a tenure with Studio Pierre Cardin in Paris, Philippe Starck initially made a name for himself in the late 1970s as a nightclub designer before in 1983, as part of a programme of cultural promotion, he was commissioned to design private rooms in the Élysée Palace for the French President Francois Mitterand and his wife Danielle. The Élysée commission, together with his 1984 design for Cafe Costes – an establishment of which the German newspaper Die Zeit wrote “No café in Paris is currently more “en vogue” ….  and none has so much chic and flair”1 – helped catapult Philippe Starck into the rapidly expanding world of interior design. And from there into the even more rapidly expanding universe of furniture design.

Characterised by an almost unbearable Post Modern meets Art Deco garishness, a character trait his furniture retains to this day, Philippe Starck’s early furniture designs caught the mood of the time, and more importantly, the attention of manufactures. From his first commissions for the Italian manufacturers Driade and Baleri Philippe Starck has gone on to collaborate with the likes of Vitra, Cassina, Alias and perhaps most famously Kartell where products such as La Marie, Louis Ghost or the Bubble Club sofa have established themselves as genuine modern furniture design classics.

Philippe Starck is however more than furniture. A prodigious creator, Philippe Starck’s canon is as diverse as it is incessant: buildings, hotel interiors, water fountains, lamps, motorcycles, televisions, telephones, toothbrushes, glasses, wind turbines, clothing, bottles…. and of course the most famous lemon juicer of all time. This variety, and the inevitable contradictions and conflicts that arise on account of the range of projects undertaken, make Philippe Starck a very hard designer to pin down. Or perhaps better put, makes him easy to misunderstand. Something not helped by the fact that most Philippe Starck books tend to be heavily image based, and what texts they have tend to be repetition of the same anecdotes.

There is no easy way to discover the real Philippe Starck. Especially if like us you toy foolhardishly with karma’s fickle temperament.

And so we thought to mark Philippe Starck’s birthday we’d let the man himself explain himself in a baker’s dozen of quotes that we hope present a balanced and fair picture of designer once memorably described by the Sydney Morning Herald as “…. the most fashionable furniture, nightclub, yacht and pasta designer in France”2

Praise indeed.

Happy Birthday Philippe Starck!

The word design does not exist. It is the English word for dessin, which is devoid of all meaning. There are those who think that it is about making things more beautiful in order to sell them. The great designer Raymond Loewy, for example. There is some truth in that. Others such as myself, believe that it is a bit more complicated: that it is a semiological task which makes use of a didactic tool in order to try to improve people’s lives and, as a result, the quality of their thoughts. That is extremely pretentious, but if it were otherwise there would be no point in doing it.
The World/Peace according to Starck Extract of a converstaion in April 1996 with Pierre Doze, Moscow. Reprinted in Starck Benedikt Taschen verlag, Köln 1996.

I remember, in my younger days, saving up to buy my first Wassily Chair. When I was finally able to buy it I took it home, bursting with pride: there it was, real proof that I had finally made it as a designer. But I found that I just could not sit in it and that it was completely impossible to live with. I still have it, but I think it is in the garden now. The trouble was that it spoke simply the language of design, whereas I believe that as designers we have a duty to talk other people’s languages too.
The International Design Yearbook Volume 3, Abbeville Press, New York, NY 1987

I am inspired by nothing except myself and my own madness. No-one has ever inspired me, neither God nor master, nor man nor woman nor animal nor culture nor film nor anything at all.
Alison Culliford, “Style Profile: Philippe Starck”, Eurostar Metropolitan Magazine June 2013 Accessed 17.01.2014

I’m not a designer, I’m not an architect, I’m not a specialist… I’m not specialised in anything, which means I’m specialised in everything. I’ve designed hotels, toothbrushes, lamps, chairs, tables, every kind of object. But the product in itself doesn’t mean anything. As far as I am concerned it’s just an excuse to get involved in something else, in what life could be, for example…. To sum it all up, I consider myself to be a political agitator who uses design and architecture…. This is my real occupation
Interview by M di Forti with Philippe Strack in Il Messaggero 4/6/1993 in Franco Bertoni, The Architecture of Philippe Starck, Academy Editions 1994

This obviously means getting rid of recycling, which is just a marketing gimmick…. Recycling was invented by the ecologists, but in the end, all it does is enable us to go on producing and consuming wastefully. A good product is a product which lasts…. I am not against recycling, I am against its being used as a universal panacea. Recycling is a sticking plaster, a way of repairing a mistake, nothing more.
Extract of a conversation with Elisabeth Laville (in August 1998) originally published in a special issue of La Lettre d’Utopies/”Responsible Design” reprinted in Reprinted in Starck Benedikt Taschen verlag, Köln 2000

For myself I have to make it clear that my cultural background is not really French. It is the product of a childhood colonized by dreams of America. Even my father came under these same influences: he spent his life designing aircraft, and was Americanized enough to wear a Stetson. And it is perhaps that American influence that has shaped my work, to the extent that I proceed instinctively and, above all, fast.
The International Design Yearbook Volume 3, Abbeville Press, New York, NY 1987

In other words, to put it simply, I am not interested in design. The reason for this is that when we speak of design we speak about objects. I am bored to hell of chairs. Even my own. One more chair, another lamp, what is the interest in that?…We have moved from traditional design – Bauhaus, Lowey, people fascinated by the object itself, which gave rise to some very beautiful results – to the explosion, like the glow of a light bulb before it burns out, in the last 15 years of a narcissistic design, done by designers for other designers, a masturbatory exhibition of their know-how, of their panache.
The World/Peace according to Starck Extract of a converstaion in April 1996 with Pierre Doze, Moscow. Reprinted in Starck Benedikt Taschen verlag, Köln 1996.

Creativity is for me no end in itself. For that I lack the fantasy, and anyway it doesn’t interest me. I’m much more interested with the everyday, with things that concern us all; underwear, washing, rain protection and I endow these things a fifth dimension, a depth that allows normal everyday objects to be more than themselves. I try to bring a little shine to the daily routine, to show that our urban reality can also be sinful and interesting.
Conway Lloyd Morgan Philippe Starck bangert verlag Schopfhein 1999

My father had matured the idea that research in all fields is almost a duty in life, a kind of obligation. We must invent, it is our place, our mission. Culture, the notion of taste, was subordinate to this research. Just as well to make a creative mistake rather than be holed up in a state of stagnation in good taste. That has partly influenced me; its part of my heritage, always wanting to create, be creative….
Christine Colin Starck Ernst Wasmuth Verlag, Tübingen 1989

My work is about the transformation of “obligations” into something else; it’s an addition of soul. What I’m saying is that when I’m forced to consume, to expiate this consumption, I inject it with soul, until the object becomes something else, or becomes a small poetic part. This is typified in my work on the toothbrush. True, we are obliged to brush our teeth, and we are therefore forced to keep a toothbrush in our bathroom – can’t dispute that – but, with a bit of effort we notice that suddenly…. voila! it becomes something else; a flame, a ray of light, an object….
The Architecture of Philippe Starck, Academy Editions 1994

In the 1950s, one of the fathers of design, Raymond Loewy, invented a slogan which was responsible both for his own success and, in part, for that of the design movement: “ugliness doesn’t sell well.” At that time, he may have been right, but I’m afraid that this formula was already structurally flawed. We have to escape from this flaw, we have to kill the word of the father…. We have to understand that “ugliness doesn’t sell well” means that design is simply the slave of industry and production, that its role is to help things sell. Structurally, that is no longer what we do. Today, the problem is not to produce more so you can sell more. The fundamental question is that of the product’s right to exist. And it is the designer’s right and duty, in the first place, to question the legitimacy of the product, and that is how he too comes to exist.
Extract of a conversation with Elisabeth Laville (in August 1998) originally published in a special issue ofLa Lettre d’Utopies/”Responsible Design” reprinted in Reprinted in Starck Benedikt Taschen verlag, Köln 2000

The first thing for us to remember is that creativity has a duty of political action. And now we have forgotten that, and young designers just think about being a star and making money. They forget their duty to society. Everything you do must be in relation to your civilization, your society, yourself, your life: without that the objects you make are just objects. That’s why I try to wake people up a little and say everything you do is a political vote.
Julie Taraska “Philippe Starck’s Politique” Accessed 17.01.2014

I have no taste…. but really, I have no taste at all
“The fabulous styles of the man with no taste” Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday Oct 16th 1986 Style Section, page 1

1 “Bonbon aus Paris. Cafe der achtziger Jahre.” Die Zeit 13th September 1985. Accessed 17.01.2014

2 “The fabulous styles of the man with no taste” Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday Oct 16th 1986. Style Section, page 1

Kartell Victoria Ghost Autumn

Enjoying autumn with a Victoria Ghost by Philippe Starck for Kartell

A&W Designer of the Year 2012: Patricia Urquiola

A&W Designer of the Year 2012 Patricia Urquiola

A&W Designer of the Year 2012: Patricia Urquiola

For a decade and a half the unofficial start to Cologne Furniture Week has been the honouring of the “A&W Designer of the Year”

Awarded by the German magazine “A&W Architektur & Wohnen”, the prize was inaugurated in 1997 to honour a designer whose work has particular defined the home furnishing style of our time. Previous winners including Philippe Starck, Antonio Citterio or Tom Dixon. To name just three from 15.

The A&W Designer of the Year 2012 is the Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola.

Perhaps best known for her work with Moroso, B&B Italia, Kartell or Molteni, Patricia Urquiola initially studied architecture in Madrid before moving to Italy where she completed her studies at the Politecnico di Milano. In 2001 she established her own studio in Milan and in addition to furniture design work has also completed numerous interior design projects and since 2002 has been a Guest Professor at the Domus Academy.

Ahead of the awards ceremony we spoke with Patricia Urquiola about her career and specifically, and in keeping with both the award and the exhibition “From Aalto to Zumthor Furniture by Architects” in the MAKK, discussed if architects make better furniture designers.

(smow)blog: You studied architecture, now work principally as a designer. Was it your intention to follow a career as an architect, or was that just a way to means?

Patricia Urquiola: From my early teens my intention was to become an architect; I was one of these adolescents who is already certain what they want to do. And so I studied architecture at the Politecnica Madrid and there I met Marco Zanuso, Achille Castiglioni and many other very interesting architects who were working in both architecture and design. And that made me focus more on design. And so in a way the Italians led this change of focus.

(smow)blog: And then you moved to Milan where you later you went on to work with another architect and designer, Piero Lissoni

Patricia Urquiola: Yes, but with the background I have and amongst my contemporaries it was quite natural to work across the borders of architecture and design. Which of course is part of the reason Milan became important as a centre for architecture and design.

(smow)blog: At the moment there is an exhibition here in Cologne looking at the role of “furniture architects”. Do architects make better furniture than designers with a different background?

Patricia Urquiola: No, I don’t think so. I am, for example, a big fan of Konstantin Grcic and he is not an architect. The discipline of design can be approached in many ways, and for me the border between the two is on the one side the “habitat” and the other “tools for living”. That was my education, that’s me and that is my approach. But the disciplines leave a lot of space to approach it in many ways and we’ve got to be open to listen to new voices. And I think there is currently some very good research and some very good schools, I think, for example, Eindhoven is currently very interesting. But, as I say, there are a lot of possibilities for working in these disciplines and we have to remain open to read the situation.

(smow)blog: You’ve been living in Milan for some 25 years now. Have you noticed a change over the decades? Is it still a city where one feels creativity?

Patricia Urquiola: I moved to Milan in a very creative period. The likes of Castiglioni or Vico Magistretti were still active and the Memphis group were in their best period. But then obviously Milan changed a lot, became more bourgeois, and today we have all these crises. But like all design centres in Italy in Milan there is still a desire to produce quality work. I had the luck in Milan to meet people who believed in design and who gave people like me a certain credibility, and I’m very grateful for that. But then my life is not only about Milan, and the work that I do in Milan is only part of my work.

A&W Designer of the Year 2012 Patricia Urquiola Volant Moroso

The sofa Volant for Moroso by Patricia Urquiola

A&W Designer of the Year 2012 Patricia Urquiola Silver Lake Moroso Comeback Chair Kartell

Silver Lake by Moroso and in the background Comeback Chair for Kartell by Patricia Urquiola

A&W Designer of the Year 2012 Patricia Urquiola KETTAL MAIA Egg swing chasen flos Tropicalia Moroso

Maia Egg swing for Kettal, the lamp Chasen for flos and Tropicalia for Moroso, all by Patricia Urquiola


(smow)intern: The Designer Furniture Catalogue 2011


Not a phrase normally associated with (smow)

To the best of our knowledge no (smow)employee has ever smashed an iPad or capped a WiFi service in protest at the creeping and increasingly obsessive proliferation of technology into our lives.

Despite that, the early summer weeks in the (smow)HQ were dominated by the preparation and production of the very first (smow)catalogue.

That’s print catalogue.

So on paper.

With ink.


Au contraire nos amis!

Not only is the production of such an analogue catalogue technologically more challenging than coding with that “any-fool-can-do” HTML; but, just as the mechanisation of the textile mills offered the oppressed masses their first, golden, taste of leisure time – so does a print catalogue help us to regain that.

Turn off the computer, enjoy a break, peruse a catalogue. And then turn the computer back on and order.

In addition to featuring a selection of products from the (smow) range the (smow) Designer Furniture Catalogue 2011 also includes biographical information on some of the most important designers and a range of specially commissioned photos of products from USM Haller, Vitra, Moormann, Richard Lampert et al

And is a mighty fine piece of work. Well done to all involved!

If you’d be interested in seeing the finished work, or know someone who would appreciate a copy, please contact (NOTE: It is only available in German)

And at we have posted a photo gallery documenting the production process.

smow Designer Furniture Catalogue 2011

(smow) Designer Furniture Catalogue 2011

Stockholm Design Week 2011: Interview with Front

Front Page by Front for Kartell

Front Page by Front for Kartell

As part of Stockholm Design Week 2011 Kartell presented the magazine rack Front Page by Stockholm design studio Front.

Clever word play and all…..

Although formally launched at Milan 2010 Front Page is only now making it’s way into the shops and as such presented a wonderful excuse for a Front “home gig”.

Having already worked with producers such as Moroso, Established & Sons or moooi, Front Page is Front’s first product for and with Kartell.

At the product launch in the Stockholm Kartell Flagship store we caught up with Anna Lindgren from Front to discuss the cooperation with Kartell and Stockholm.

(smow)blog: How did the cooperation with Kartell arise?

Anna Lindgren: Kartell was one of the companies we really wanted to work with – and so we tried for a long time to get a meeting with them in order to show them our portfolio. And then they saw some of our work as part of an exhibition in a gallery in Milan. And so in the end they contacted us.

(smow)blog: And then did they say – “Please make a magazine rack, we like the pun” or how did things develop?

Anna Lindgren: No, no it was much more that we were allowed to come to them and were given the chance to present different ideas that we thought would suit Kartell. And then it came to a discussion from which Front Page evolved. But Kartell also like to develop long term relationships with designers and so they also wanted to see that we could work on a range of different products that could work for Kartell….

(smow)blog: … and so there is a series of Front prototypes lying in the Kartell HQ basement …

Anna Lindgren: (laughs) No not exactly, but we are working on new projects that we hope could be ready for Milan this year. But it is not certain…

(smow)blog: And so from Front’s perspective the cooperation was successful?

Anna Lindgren: Definitely !

(smow)blog: We are currently in the middle of Stockholm Design Week, is that something Front have to be part of or is it something that you do because you want to?

Anna Lindgren: Some years we haven’t done anything! And this year it was the case that we had shown the magazine rack at Milan and then it was great that it was finally coming into the stores and so it’s nice to celebrate that. But we think Stockholm furniture fair is a very interesting fair and the design week is getting better all the time and so it is very interesting to do something here. Especially because it’s more convenient for us!

(smow)blog: And a final question. Is Stockholm a creative city where as a designer you can work, or do you have to leave Stockholm to achieve things?

Anna Lindgren: Stockholm is a very nice city to live in and work in. It’s big but not too big and there are a lot of creative people here in the city. And so for us Stockholm is a very good base for our studio.

Front Page  - the magazine rack that thinks its a book!

Front Page - The Kartell magazine rack that thinks it's a pun

Kartell Stockholm present Front Page by Front

Kartell Stockholm present Front Page by Front

Anna Castelli Ferrieri

Anna Castelli Ferrieri (

Anna Castelli Ferrieri (1920-2006)

August 6th marks the 90th anniversary of the birth of the Italian architect, designer and Kartell co-founder Anna Castelli Ferrieri.

Despite initial flirtations with modernism, including a trip to Paris to visit Le Corbusier, the young Anna Castelli Ferrieri was drawn ever more to the Italian neo-rationalism  – especially that practiced by Franco Albini.

And although Kartell products may not be physically reminiscent of the work of Albini, the ethos behind the company and its approach to design are clearly rooted in Albini’s mix of traditional Italian design combined with modern approaches and affordable materials.

In addition to helping establish the golden era contemporary Italian design in the 1960s and 1970s as characterized by the likes of Joe Colombo or Ettore Sottsass,  Anna Castelli Ferrieri also contributed to the Italian design canon with her 1969 Componibili modular storage system; a system that remains a classic of contemporary Italian design.

From 1976 until her retirement in 1987 Anna Castelli Ferrieri served as artistic director by Kartell and oversaw the establishment of Kartell at the forefront of the development and utilization of modern plastics in product design.

Anna Castelli Ferrieri died on June 22nd 2006 aged 87.

Componibili by Anna Castelli Ferrieri for Kartell

Componibili by Anna Castelli Ferrieri for Kartell

Kartell chairs and Prada handbags

Finally a good use for designer jeans.....

Finally a good use for designer jeans.....

The other week we briefly swapped our designer chairs for designer jeans, our crazy student sideboards for crazy student hats and and our designer bookcases for designer handbags: It was Berlin Fashion Week.

The short busman’s holiday in the German capital was principally concerned with a new, and still relatively secret, project but we also wanted to take the opportunity to compare and contrast the designer furniture and designer clothes industries.

Sure they are both about brands, star designers and market share.

But what we miss in the designer clothing industry is the innovation.

WHAT scream an offended ostentation of materials engineers in our direction.
Sorry. You MISS the INNOVATION!!!!

OK, badly explained.

Sponn chair by Antonio Citterio and Toan Nguyenfor Kartell. As seen during Berlin Fashion Week

Spoon chair by Antonio Citterio and Toan Nguyen for Kartell. As seen during Berlin Fashion Week

Aside from new materials, we miss the innovation.

A pair of jeans are a pair jeans regardless of where the pockets are.

Which makes the launch of most “new ” jeans simply presentation over substance.

“These jeans are good because they were designed by her that used to be in that band that were formed in that reality show!!!”

“These jeans are better than those jeans because these are straighter cut. And stop at the ankle”

If you think we over-exaggerate just ask yourself why the editors of fashion magazines are celebrities in their own right and the editors of design magazines are well paid specialist journalists?

The devil may sit on a Vitra chair; but no one is going to make a film about it!

We’re not going to pretend that there aren’t designer furniture producers who also place presentation above substance – but the majority are principally concerned with improving and further developing existing furniture types. Building more value into the product

We just didn’t see anyone in Berlin trying to improve or further develop trousers.

Where we do feel more at home in the designer fashion world is amongst those sections and products where innovation has a little more room. Designer accessories rather than designer clothes. As it were.

Saffiano Fori Caramel from Prada

A Prada Handbag

Such as handbags.

A new Prada handbag, for example, doesn’t have to impress us with the newness of its material or the colour of its fabric – just with its form, functionality and, perhaps most importantly, that it is somehow a further development from previous Prada handbags.

Much like a new Kartell chair.

It’s going to be plastic. But why should we buy it?

They’re trousers. Nice colour.

And just don’t get us started on “trend analysts”

And so we returned from the stifling bustle of Berlin more convinced than ever than in the world of clothes design the true creativity rests in ye goode olde wordsmithery and not in the tailoring.

And wondering if Kartell will ever produce designer handbags?

(smow) in Milan 2010: Kartell “Welcome Black 2010”

The undisputed highlight of the Kartell stand at Saloni Milano 2009 was the cat and mouse game with the special forces Kartell had hired to prevent visitors taking photographs.
Despite the Kartell stand taking up an area half the size of Lombardy, the highly trained troops proved particularly efficient and we, for example, were forced to camp out overnight in a disused fox hole just to get a quick snap shot of the Dr NOs.

Judging by the pre-Saloni press, this year is going to be even more fun.

They’re turning out the lights and employing the forces of the Dark Side to stop photographers!!

Welcome Black 2010 Philippe Starck and Kartell in Milan

"Welcome Black 2010" Philippe Starck and Kartell in Milan

“Welcome Black 2010” is the motto of Kartell’s Saloni show and the invitation promises a dark landscape full of sorcery and demonic goodness.
Or it does if you interpret it as we do.

Aside from fighting Jedis and terrifying young children, Kartell will launch new products by, among others, Tokujin Yoshioka, Philippe Starck and Eugeni Quitllet, Piero Lissoni and Ferruccio Laviani.

We’ll be taking the night vision goggles and you can read our impressions of Kartell’s new products in our (smow) in Milan coverage from April 14th.

Invisible Chair by Ttokujin Yoshioka for Kartell

Invisible Chair by Ttokujin Yoshioka for Kartell

Ghost Buster by Philippe Starck and Eugeni Quitllet for Kartell

Ghost Buster by Philippe Starck and Eugeni Quitllet for Kartell

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